One of the greatest masters of medieval theology is Saint Albert the Great. The title of “great” (magnus), with whom he has passed into history, indicates the breadth and depth of his doctrine, which he coupled with holiness of life. But already his contemporaries did not hesitate to attribute excellent titles, one of his disciples, Ulrich of Strasbourg, described him as “wonder and miracle of our age.”
He was born in Germany at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and still very young he went to Italy, Padua, home to one of the most famous universities of the Middle Ages. He devoted himself to the study of so-called “liberal arts”: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music, that of the general culture, manifesting that typical interest in the natural sciences, which would soon become the favorite field of his specialization . During his stay in Padua, he frequented the church of the Dominicans, whom he later joined with the profession of religious vows. The hagiographic sources to understand that Albert matured this decision gradually. The intense relationship with God, the example of holiness of the Dominican Friars, listening to the sermons of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, successor of Saint Dominic in the leadership of the Order of Preachers, were the decisive factors that helped him to overcome every doubt, overcoming also family resistance. Often, in the years of youth, God speaks to us and shows us the plan of our life. As for Albert, for all of us, personal prayer nourished by the Word of the Lord, the frequenting of the sacraments and the spiritual guidance of enlightened men are the means to discover and follow the voice of God received the religious habit from Blessed Jordan of Saxony .
After ordination, the superiors sent him to teach in several centers of theological study adjacent to monasteries of the Dominican Fathers. His brilliant intellectual qualities enabled him to perfect the study of theology in the most famous of the time, that of Paris. Since then Saint Albert undertook that extraordinary activity of writer, which would then follow for a lifetime.
He was assigned prestigious tasks. In 1248 he was charged with opening a theological study at Cologne, one of the most important capitals of Germany, where he lived on several occasions, and that became his adopted city. From Paris he took with him an exceptional pupil, Thomas Aquinas. The merit would suffice to have been Saint Thomas’ teacher to foster profound admiration for Saint Albert. Between these two great theologians was a relationship of mutual esteem and friendship, human attitudes that help much in the development of science. In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial of the “Province Teutoniae” – Teutonic – of the Dominican Fathers, which included community spread over a vast territory of Central and Northern Europe. He was distinguished for the zeal with which he exercised this ministry, visiting the communities and constantly recalling his brethren to faithfulness to the teachings and example of Saint Dominic.
His talents were not lost to the Pope of that time, Alexander IV, who wanted Albert for a while next to him at Anagni – where the Pope frequently went – in Rome itself and in Viterbo, in order to make use of its theological counsel. The same Supreme Pontiff appointed him bishop of Regensburg, a great and famous diocese, which was, however, at a difficult time. From 1260 to 1262 Albert served in this ministry with tireless dedication, managing to bring peace and harmony in the city, reorganizing parishes and convents, and giving new impetus to charitable activities.
In the years 1263-1264 Albert preached in Germany and in Bohemia, charged by Pope Urban IV, to return then to Cologne to resume its mission as a teacher, scholar and writer. Being a man of prayer, science and charity, he enjoyed great authority in his speeches, in several affairs of the Church and society of the time was above all a man of reconciliation and peace in Cologne, where the archbishop had entered into hard contrast with the city government, he spent himself during the course of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, convoked by Pope Gregory X to foster union with the Greeks, after the separation of the Great Schism of the East in 1054, and he clarified the thought of Thomas Aquinas, who had been the subject of objections and even wholly unjustified condemnations.
He died in the cell of his monastery of Santa Croce in Cologne in 1280, and soon was venerated by his confreres. The Church proposed to the veneration of the faithful with the beatification in 1622 and canonization in 1931, when Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church. It was undoubtedly an appropriate recognition to this great man of God, and distinguished scholar not only of the truths of faith, but of many other areas of knowledge, in fact, taking a look at the titles of numerous works, we realize that his culture was something prodigious, and that his encyclopedic interest led him to be concerned not only with philosophy and theology, like other contemporaries, but also with every other discipline then known, from physics to chemistry, from astronomy to mineralogy, from botany to zoology. For this reason, Pope Pius XII named him patron of natural scientists and is also called “Doctor universalis” because of the breadth of his interests and his knowledge.
Certainly, the scientific methods adopted by Saint Albert the Great are not those that would have affirmed in subsequent centuries. His method consisted simply in observation, description and classification of the phenomena studied, but thus opened the door for future work.
He still has much to teach us. Above all, Saint Albert shows that between faith and science there is no opposition, despite some episodes of misunderstanding are recorded in history. A man of faith and prayer, as Saint Albert the Great, can peacefully cultivate the study of natural sciences and progress in the knowledge of the micro and macrocosm, discovering the laws proper matter, because all this concurs to feed the thirst and the ‘Love of God The Bible speaks of creation as the first language through which God – who is supreme intelligence – reveals to us something of himself. The Book of Wisdom, for example, states that the phenomena of nature, with grandeur and beauty, as are the works of an artist, through which, by analogy, we can know the Author of creation (cf. Wis . 13, 5). With a classic similarity in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance one can compare the natural world in a book written by God, that we read according to the different approaches of the sciences (cf. Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences , October 31, 2008 ). How many scientists, in fact, in the wake of Saint Albert the Great, carried out their research inspired by wonder and gratitude to the world that, in the eyes of scholars and believers, seemed and seems like a good work of a Creator wise and loving! Scientific study is then transformed into a hymn of praise. It was well understood by a great astrophysicist of our times, which is the cause for beatification was introduced, Enrico Medi, who wrote: “Oh, you mysterious galaxies …, I see you, I calculated, I understand you, I study and you will discover you, I will penetrate and collect. From you I take the light and I do science, I take the motion and fo wisdom, take the sparkling of colors and make poetry, I take you stars in my hands, and trembling in the unity of my being I raise you beyond yourselves, and in prayer I offer to the Creator, that only through me you can adore stars “( The works. Ode to creation) .
St. Albert the Great reminds us that there is friendship between science and faith, and that men of science can undertake, through their vocation to the study of nature, a genuine and fascinating journey of holiness.
His extraordinary openness of mind is revealed also in a cultural that he undertook with success, that is, the acceptance and evaluation of Aristotle’s thought. At the time of Saint Albert, in fact, was spreading the knowledge of numerous works of this great greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century before Christ, especially in the context of ethics and metaphysics. They demonstrated the force of reason, explained lucidly and in detail the meaning and structure of reality, its intelligibility, the value and purpose of human actions. Saint Albert the Great opened the door for the complete reception of the philosophy of Aristotle in Medieval philosophy and theology, a reception elaborated later in a definitive way by S. Thomas. This reception of a philosophy, say, pagan and pre-Christian was an authentic cultural revolution for that time. Yet, many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle’s philosophy, the philosophy of non-Christian, above all because, presented by its Arab commentators, it was interpreted in such a way as to appear, at least in some places, as altogether irreconcilable with the Christian faith. Thus a dilemma arose: faith and reason in opposition to one another or not?
Here is one of the great merits of Saint Albert: with scientific rigor he studied the works of Aristotle, convinced that all that is rational is compatible with the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures. In other words, Saint Albert the Great, thus contributed to the formation of an autonomous philosophy, distinct from theology and united to it only by the truth. Thus was born the thirteenth century a clear distinction between these two forms of learning, philosophy and theology, which, in dialogue with each other, cooperate harmoniously in the discovery of the true vocation of man, thirsting for truth and happiness: and it is above all theology defined by Saint Albert as “affective science,” which indicates to man his call to eternal joy, a joy that flows from full adherence to truth.
St. Albert the Great was able to communicate these concepts in a simple and understandable. True son of Saint Dominic, he preached willingly to the people of God, who were conquered by his word and the example of his life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to the Lord that there will never be lacking in the Holy Church learned, pious and wise theologians like Saint Albert the Great and help each one of us to make our own the “formula of holiness” that he followed in his life: ” Will everything that I want for the glory of God, as God wants for His glory whatever He wants, “that is, always conform to God’s will and to do everything only and always for His glory.